Here’s Something You Probably Never Wondered About – the History of Clapping

I heard another great Geico commercial on the radio today, and one of the lines was asking about how clapping ever got started. Why would you celebrate something by hitting yourself, the announcer questioned.

It gave me pause, and I wondered “how did clapping originate?”

Forty years ago it may have been hard to answer such a question.

Today, it’s as easy as typing the question into your smartphone.

So that’s what I did, and here is what I found.

Feel free to stop reading at this point if it is something you were never curious about; to be honest, it’s not that interesting…

My first thought was to look at what Wikipedia had to say about it, but I came across a more engaging history of clapping at a site called The Theatre in Paris. Here are some fun facts from the site:

  • Clapping is the most common sound that we, as humans, use without our voice chords
  • the average speed of our claps ranges from 2.5-5 claps per second
  • Clapping is recognized through every culture in the world, and is one of the most universal means of communication
  • In Western etiquette, a study has shown that the clap of an individual actually has very little to do with that individual’s personal opinion of the quality of the performance. It has more to do with the feeling of belonging in the group that someone has just experienced something with.
  • You can’t tell much about a person through their clap, like whether they’re male or female, or where they’re from. Clapping is even considered more democratic, since stomping your feet can be too disruptive, and not everyone can snap their fingers.
  • Taking it way back to 6th century BC, lawmaker Kleisthénes of Athens made it so that audiences would have to clap in approval of their leader, since there were too many people to meet individually. Through this came the “applause”, the unified voices of all these people in the form of clapping together in admiration.
  • A few hundred years later, in the 4th century BC came the claquer. A claquer was a person who was hired by theaters and shows to clap, cry, or laugh at the right moments in order to influence the audience’s reactions. In the 4th century Athens, competition was fierce between comedians, and claquers became a common way to sway the decision of the judges and be awarded best performance. In the Roman Empire, the practice of using applause to influence was applied to politics, and claquers were found in both courts of law and private art demonstrations
  • the remnants of the claquers are now limited to television show sets and radio programs, in the form of applause symbols to tell the audience when they should be clapping
  • It is considered perfectly normal to applaud a politician as he takes the stage before he even gives a speech, as a sign of approval and in recognition of past accomplishments.
  • In a religious setting, applauding is very rarely heard.
  • While during a play it would be deemed rude to begin applauding in the middle of the performance, one often hears clapping throughout an opera in appreciation for a particularly difficult piece of music.

And here are some additional fun facts from Wikipedia:

  • The President of the United States, in his State of the Union address, is often interrupted by applause; tracking the number and duration of such interruptions has become a trend on various television news channels.
  • A golf clap is a form of quiet clapping, so-named because it is the preferred form of applause for golfers; golf claps are sometimes used at other events to heckle or to show sarcasm.
  • In various countries, airplane passengers often tend to applaud the landing upon completion of a flight and when they have felt the plane’s wheels’ touchdown and have run a short but satisfactory course down the runway.

And here is my favorite:

  • In German-speaking countries, it is customary for university students to rap their knuckles on the desks after each lecture.

I may need to figure out a way for my students to start such a tradition at the end of my lectures. Of course, the first thing I would have to do is wake them up…


70 thoughts on “Here’s Something You Probably Never Wondered About – the History of Clapping

  1. And now my knowledge has been increased once more, thanks to you. 🙂
    It was a fun post to read. Maybe your next post can be on how did “smacking ones head” get started! LOL!
    I think it must have started with the old V-8 commercial. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You’ve got to sell your audience, Jim. What’s this telling us it’s not very interesting? You don’t start your lectures that way, do you? Is there any truth to the rumor that your students clap for you when you walk into the room?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. there’s no need to start my lectures with such a warning; the title of the course is warning enough 🙂

      I think the more likely scenario would be that there would be clapping if I cancelled a class…

      Liked by 2 people

  3. You sold yourself short my friend or I am just as easily entertained as you, because I thought this was a great read. A ton of history with just the right amount of humor. Of course, there is a tried and true method to invoke applause at the end of your lectures, but I do not know how the administrators would feel about you announcing there will be no tests or finals. Just so you know, I clapped when I finished reading this…👏

    Liked by 4 people

  4. perhaps hire your own claquers for your classroom? this would serve to encourage the proper laughter at appropriate times, get the knuckle-wrapping going, claps where they fit in, and all activity would serve to awaken those who may have drifted off. hire a couple of reliable students, perhaps into theater or performance art.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Informative and entertaining post, Jim 👏👏

    But when did the moronic trend of clapping your own answers on TV game shows begin? Clapping is supposed to show appreciation for someone else, not yourself…

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it Clive!

      And I agree that clapping for yourself is dubious at best.

      I’m also puzzled by how much clapping there is during a volleyball game by the players…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I just watched a short clip of a women’s match, and I guess it isn’t quite clapping; they get together after every point (whether they win or lose the point), and then they high five each other…

        here’s the clip; if you are interested, you would only have to watch the first couple of minutes to see what I mean…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Cricket needs explaining to an American!

        The ‘pitch’ is the 22yard strip of grass between the wickets.

        When the ball is bowled we call it a ‘ball.’

        The frequency of chats depends on the state of the game, but they can be as often as after every ball if a close finish is happening. They can be good for tactical time wasting too!

        Beach volleyball? It is of course the aesthetics of the game. What else? 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It can be quite a complex game to explain to those who don’t see or play it. Lots of rules and statistics too. I’ve loved the game all my life, even though my playing days are long gone.

        The tactical planning that goes into the choice of bikin

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I was just reading a bit about cricket today. One of our local colleges – Haverford, is one of the few colleges in the country that plays cricket. It’s five minutes from my house, and I’ve seen them playing cricket, but I’ve never stopped to watch. Maybe that would be a good way to start…

        Liked by 1 person

      5. That might help, but you’d probably pick it up more quickly from someone explaining what was going on. At least you won’t call a ball bowled a ‘pitch’ now, though 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I’m biased, as I’ve loved the game ever since I was given a toy cricket bat as a toddler, but it’s worth the effort. It has lots of statistics too, which should appeal to an American sports fan…

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Fascinating read, Jim. I also investigated clapping but for entirely different reasons; I was adding a polyrhythmic clap to a song I was recording. While investigating, I found out there are even such a thing as competitive clapping games. And then there’s this guy….

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Interesting facts – as noted it is probably the easiest and most audible way to show approval. It’s also worth noting with having two young children clapping is one of the first movements they learn to do, and is an easy way for us parents to understand when they are happy/approve without speaking.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Yes I think we all like to feel – or we did before Covid – that we have been a part of something, the less inhibited at a concert may also shout bravo, or stand up or stamp their feet.

    Liked by 1 person

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